Lena pursed her lips and stared down at her plate. Everything smelled of fish. The spongy assembly of vegetables and soggy breading reeked of canned tuna. Under her fork it all turned into brackish mush.
No one else seemed to mind it. Around the long tables in the barracks, her fellow recruits dug into their casseroles with groans of pleasure. Their first year training was demanding and meals were quick affairs. Everyone was sore, exhausted, and hungry. Lena wasn’t an exception, her stomach growled at the thought of food. She looked back down at her plate and felt her lip tremble. This wasn’t food.
Lena looked up at the tall soldier smiling down at her. Like most of the second years, he traveled with a pack. His friends, flushed from training and impatient to get to the night’s social events, looked affronted at his stop.
“I’m hungry. This is just–” She stopped, not wanting to sound like every other spoiled new arrival here. Her suitemates rarely deigned to eat with the rest of the recruits, preferring their own reclusive company. Far from home, Lena was just trying to belong.
“Disgusting.” He finished with a sigh. Lena decided she liked the cocky set to his strong chin, it told her he knew just how broad his shoulders were and exactly how much his waist tapered beneath his training shirt. “You get used to it.”
“I don’t think I will.” Lena smiled, letting a few sleek strands of hair fall over her face before she pushed them back over an ear. The fluttering in her stomach felt better than disgust or hollow hunger. She wasn’t going to fight it. “I can do better.”
“Can you?” He raised an eyebrow and was about to say more before one of his thick-necked friends tugged him away with muttered joke.They laughed, shoved each other, and then loped away, Lena forgotten in favor of whatever the upperclassmen did in the evenings.
She watched them go, enjoying the movement of their shoulders beneath their training clothes while she stirred the mush on her plate. The food was still disgusting, and she was still far from home, friends, and family. But perhaps it wasn’t all bad.
So fluffy it hurts, my fingers smart from picking the line Everything smelled of fish out of More than 1/2 Mad‘s pockets.